MANTA, Ecuador – Bamboo has recovered its importance in construction following the earthquake that on April 16, 2016, devastated the Ecuadorian provinces of Esmeraldas and Manabi, to the point of being seen akin to steel.
Measuring up to 20 meters long, these tall, woody reeds with rings around their stems have made a comeback as a construction material in the plans of the Manabi government, which sees it as having enormous potential thanks to its flexibility, strength, sustainability and abundance in the region.
“The primary part of this project is its environmental focus,” Ecuador’s Housing Minister Xavier Torres told EFE during his visit to a prototype home built in the city of Manta with aid from Cooperacion Española.
As part of the “Homes for All” project, the banner initiative of the Lenin Moreno government, Ecuador plans to use this plant to set new building projects in motion that will benefit many in the country, from farm hands to construction workers, while revving up defense of the ecosystem.
Ecuador is located on the Ring of Fire of the Pacific Ocean, which makes it subject to constant seismic movements – the one that shook the Ecuadorian coast in 2016 was a magnitude 7.8 quake on the Richter scale.
With almost 700 dead and thousands injured, the destruction was massive in the provinces of Manabi and Esmeraldas, and losses due to the damage, which included numerous homes that came crashing down, were valued at some $3 billion.
Construction Manager Manuel Mero Delgado said that many people became interested in bamboo because of the earthquake, given that constructions with that material withstood the quake much better.
“They realized that nothing happened to the bamboo constructions and now they really appreciate it,” he told EFE about that “anti-seismic” material.
Trained in Colombia and with more than 25 years’ experience using this material, Mero recovers in his constructions the oldest traditions of the Montubios, an Ecuadorian ethnic group that lives on the Ecuadorian coast and typically used bamboo to build their dwellings because of its freshness and an abundance that made it easy to gather.
In their homes today, however, they combine bamboo with some modern materials, within the research project of the School of Architecture of Eloy Alfaro Laic University of Manabi (ULEAM).
Now they will lay a concrete foundation, on which they post pillars of bamboo and so continue to give form to the dwelling.
The research, to which Spain has contributed close to 500,000 euros ($565,000), includes the technical aspects of the entire process, from cutting the bamboo to designing the home.
The challenge: making sure the materials are used in a technically savvy and responsible way, taking full advantage of modern science and technology.
This is a process that begins inland, at more than 100 kilometers (60 miles) from Manta, on plantations where the growth of the bamboo is watched meticulously so it is cut at the right moment and then dried.
In 2016, some 15,000 homes of wood and bamboo were hit by the earthquake, above all in rural areas, but in no case were there any deaths, unlike in dwellings made of cement.